Even a loss is fun in this league

June 22, 1994|By Dolly Merritt | Dolly Merritt,Special to the Sun

It's a Wednesday morning on the dusty diamond at Cedar Lane Park, and the Howard County Red senior citizens' slow-pitch softball team -- which has won three of its nine games -- is in full swing, despite a few aching backs and some wrapped knees.

The 19 members of the team, sponsored by the county's Department of Recreation and Parks and the Harry H. Witzke Funeral Home in Ellicott City, are 60 and older. Another county XTC softball team for seniors, Howard County White, consisting of players 65 and older, is sponsored by Poole & Kent Co. in Baltimore.

Both are part of the nine-team Senior Beltway League, which includes teams from Howard, Calvert and Carroll counties; and Bowie, Parkville, Dundalk and Greenbelt. The players are all 60 years or older. "We have a wide range of talents," said George Horn, manager of the Howard County Red team. "If you can come out for the team and show up, you will play for at least a part of the game."

The 63-year old Ellicott City resident, who also plays racquetball and tennis, said he has "never stopped playing ball." Last year was Mr. Horn's first experience on a senior team, and this season is the first time he has managed the 3-year-old Red team.

"We have 19 on the roster, but that doesn't mean everyone is able to play," Mr. Horn said. "There's always someone out because of injuries."

Behind the plate one recent game was 63-year-old Dick Harmon of Ellicott City, who shouted encouragement to the pitcher as he threw warm-up pitches. As a hitter knocked batting practice pitches into the field, shouts of "Nice going!" and "Got it!" rang out as the fielders prepared for the first inning.

"Let's hustle," said Mr. Horn as players got into position for the game against the Bowie 60s.

The Bowie team, a powerhouse, scored 10 quick runs in the first inning, which automatically brought the Red team to bat because of a rule limiting the number of runs in an inning to 10.

First at bat for the Red team was the oldest member, 75-year-old Bob Chick of Columbia. He whacked the ball, hustled to first base -- and requested a designated runner to fill in for him. Another request for a designated runner came from Donald Morgan. The 61-year-old Ellicott City resident has knee problems, but his wife, daughter and grandson cheered him on from the bleachers when he hit the ball.

The sun grew hotter as the game went on, and the Bowie team maintained its lopsided lead. By the bottom of the ninth inning, the score stood at 34-6. With the bases loaded, Mr. Horn hit a home run. Later on, with the bases empty, he hit another, making the final score 34-11.

Members of the Red team took the loss in their stride, picking up their equipment and heading for their cars.

"It's been fun doing this and to realize that you can still function," said Mr. Chick. "It's like watching people play in slow motion."

The former football referee said he had not played softball since "right before and after World War II." He learned about the team this year through a newspaper advertisement and joined because "it beats sitting home."

Frank Kitzmillen, a 62-year-old Dayton resident who plays shortstop, has played softball in the county for 20 years. He said he is happy to continue playing with the senior citizens' league.

"My wife said that there was less of a tendency to get injured if I played with the older group," he said.

Some of the players admitted to a bit of frustration over the lopsided score.

"It's fun playing good teams, but I would rather have had a closer game," said Mr. Harmon, who joined the team last year. "We've had a big turnover, and we have only six or seven players on the team from last year. As we get to play together, we will get better through association."

Mr. Horn, too, expects the team's performance to approve.

"The Bowie team is the cream of the crop," he said. "We do make errors, but we will come around. . . . Winning isn't everything."

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